I have put a lot of effort over the last 14 years into investigating questionable remedies for pets, and exposing people who peddle misinformation and snake oil. Pet owners care deeply for their animal companions, and this love can be taken advantage by unscrupulous or deluded individuals who sell untested, unsafe, and ineffective products for sick pets.
My main hope is always that the truth about these products and these individuals will protect some people and their pets from being misled and harmed. In the perfect world, revealing the truth about misinformation and deception might help remove some products and their promoters from the field and discourage some of the selling of snake oil and pseudoscience.
The reality, though, is that there is little effective oversight of healthcare products and services for veterinary patients. Veterinarians and others are generally free to offer practices and products that haven’t been appropriately tested for safety or that are unquestionably ineffective, even dangerous. Regulatory agencies, such as state veterinary medical boards, the FDA, and others, lack the resources and political support to challenge veterinary quackery. The laws are often inadequate to bar specific products or their promoters or obtain justice of compensation for those hurt by bogus treatments.
Gloria Dodd, Al Plechner, Jean Dodds, Karen Becker, and many others are able to freely promote products and practices ranging from the unlikely to the completely insane with little interference. Ineffective and unsafe remedies, from homeopathy to Neoplasene, coffee enemas to untested herbal remedies remain available for use by vets and pet owners regardless of the evidence against them. All too often, no one is truly protecting the public from pseudoscience and quackery.
Today, though, I get to report on one small break in this depressing pattern. Jonathan Nyce, who sold a million dollars worth of his fake cancer treatments, Tumexal and Naturasone, has been convicted of wire fraud and trafficking in illegal veterinary drugs. I first wrote about Tumexal in 2014, and my conclusion then was this:
TumexalTM is yet another purported wonder drug with a “secret ingredient” that has been discovered by a lone genius and offered to the public out of altruism. It is supposed to be very effective and perfectly safe, and anyone who doesn’t take the company’s word for this is a “cynic” with questionable motives or a lack of compassion. Such claims are cheap and easy to make, but they are worthless without real scientific data, and none are available for TumexalTM.
Later that year, the FDA issued a warning to Nyce to stop making illegal claims about the product. Despite this, his web site remained active until 2018, and he was able to continue to take advantage of desperate pet owners and sell his worthless snake oil. Finally, in 2020, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania charged him with illegal claims and selling misbranded animal drugs. Now, almost three years later, and many, many years after Nyce started selling his snake oil, he has finally been convicted of these charges.
What price Nyce will pay, or what compensation, if any, the pet owners he defrauded will receive is unclear. Much as I would like to take some small comfort in this conviction, I cannot help be frustrated by the slow and ineffective enforcement of even the most minimal protections for pet owners and veterinary patients. Despite a dodgy history in the pharmaceutical industry and being a convicted murder, Nyce was able to sell a fake cancer cure to over 900 pet owners for hundreds of thousands of dollars over at least 6 years without impediment.
When even such an extreme case draws an arguably insufficient response, less dramatic and sensational purveyors of snake oil are likely to be free to mislead the pet-owning public indefinitely. The risk is real, and it is past time we, as a society, got serious about protecting vulnerable animals and their human families.